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A basic income for everyone? Yes, Finland shows it really can work | Aditya Chakrabortty

Trials suggest it can liberate jobless people, says the Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty

In a speck of a village deep in the Finnish countryside, a man gets money for free. Each month, almost 560 (500) is dropped into his bank account, with no strings attached. The cash is his to use as he wants. Who is his benefactor? The Helsinki government. The prelude to a thriller, perhaps, or some reality TV. But Juha Jrvinens story is ultimately more exciting. He is a human lab rat in an experiment that could help to shape the future of the west.

Last Christmas, Jrvinen was selected by the state as one of 2,000 unemployed people for a trial of universal basic income. You may have heard of UBI, or the policy of literally giving people money for nothing. Its an idea that lights up the brains of both radical leftists John McDonnell and Bernie Sanders and Silicon Valley plutocrats such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. And in the long slump that has followed the banking crash, it is one of the few alternatives put forward that doesnt taste like a reheat.

Yet hardly anyone knows what it might actually look like. For all the fuss, Finland is the first European country to launch a major dry run. It is not the purists UBI which would give everyone, even billionaires, a monthly sum. Nor will Finland publish any results until the two-year pilot is over at the end of 2018. In the meantime, we rely on the testimony of participants such as Jrvinen. Which is why I have to fly to Helsinki, then drive the five hours to meet him.

Ask Jrvinen what difference money for nothing has made to his life, and you are marched over to his workshop. Inside is film-making equipment, a blackboard on which is scrawled plans for an artists version of Airbnb, and an entire little room where he makes shaman drums that sell for up to 900. All this while helping to bring up six children. All those free euros have driven him to work harder than ever.

None of this would have been possible before he received UBI. Until this year, Jrvinen was on dole money; the Finnish equivalent of the jobcentre was always on his case about job applications and training. Ideas flow out of Jrvinen as easily as water from a tap, yet he could exercise none of his initiative for fear of arousing bureaucratic scrutiny.

In one talked-about case last year, an unemployed Finn called Christian was caught carving and selling wooden guitar plectrums. It was more pastime than business, earning him a little more than 2,000 in a year. But the sum was not what angered the authorities, it was the thought that each plectrum had taken up time that could have been spent on official hoop-jumping.

For Iain Duncan Smith, poverty was the rotten fruit of broken families, addiction or debt. Photograph: Bloomberg/via Getty Images

That was Jrvinen, too, until this year. Just as with so many Britons on social security, he was trapped in a humiliating system that gave him barely enough to feed himself, while refusing him even a glimmer of a hope of fulfilment.

So what accounted for his change? Certainly not the UBI money. In Finland, 560 is less than a fifth of average private-sector income. You have to be a magician to survive on such money, Jrvinen says. Over and over, he baldly describes himself as poor.

His liberation came in the lack of conditions attached to the money. If they so wish, Finns on UBI can bank the cash and do nothing else. But, in Jrvinens case at least, the sum has removed the fear of utter destitution, freeing him to do work he finds meaningful.

It sounds simple. It is simple. But to this visitor from Austerity Britain, with its inglorious panoply of welfare scandals stretching from universal credit to Concentrix to Atos, it was almost fantastical.

This UBI trial was introduced by a centre-right government that is bringing in its own version of austerity, including big cuts to benefits and schools. Yet, try as I might to imagine Theresa May or Philip Hammond allowing even loose change to be given to the poor with no questions, I still draw a blank.

I visit Finlands equivalent of Iain Duncan Smith, the social affairs minister Pirkko Mattila. A recent escapee from the populist True Finns, she carries no discernible hippy tendencies not a whiff of joss stick. Yet she seems genuinely bemused that there could be any political resistance to handing poor people some money to sit at home. I personally believe that in Finland citizens really want to work, she says.

What this underlines is how debased Britains welfare politics have become compared with much of the rest of Europe. Blame Tory austerity, or New Labours workfare, or Thatcherisms trite exhortations to get on your bike but we have ended up with a system shot through by two toxic beliefs.

One, that poverty is the product of personal moral failure. For the former chancellor George Osborne, it was about skivers v strivers. For IDS, poverty was the rotten fruit of broken families, addiction or debt. Neither man, nor the rest of their party, can accept what their rightwing counterparts in Finland do: that poverty is no more than a lack of money.

What flows from that is the second bogus British belief: the idea that social security isnt a safety net for all, but a cash-starved and demoralised triage system for the lazy and feckless right at the bottom.

Treating the poor as criminals in the making places welfare as an adjunct to the criminal justice system. It means declaring dying people as fit for work. It leaves disabled people living in mortal fear of their next Esa or Pip assessment; jobless people being sanctioned for no good reason.

And it is all next to useless. Bureaucracy and costs are displaced everywhere from the NHS to local councils to citizens advice bureaux. The government has, on its own assessments, failed to make a fraction of its proposed savings from reforming disability benefits. Think about all those ordinary peoples lives ripped up and ruined and barely a penny saved.

If that was the philosophy of the Finns, they would never have got this experiment off the ground, and Jrvinen would not now be dreaming up dozens of schemes.

Go to Finland for answers on universal basic income, by all means. But be prepared to come back with even more questions about why Britain abuses its poor.

Aditya Chakraborttys report from Finland can be seen on Vice News Tonight on HBO and online

Aditya Chakrabortty is a Guardian columnist

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/31/finland-universal-basic-income

‘We used to have a lot of fans’: baseball in a slump amid Venezuela crisis

Venezuela is Latin Americas baseball powerhouse. Even Chvez used to play. But the economic meltdown is squeezing the countrys national sport

Juan Gutirrez can tell something is wrong with baseball in Venezuela every time his team, the Caracas Lions, takes the field.

The Lions have won the championship 20 times since the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League was founded in 1945. But in a city of 2 million, only a handful bother to attend Lions games.

We used to have a lot of fans in the stadium, said Gutirrez, a relief pitcher, as he sat in the Lions dugout before a recent home game. But because of the situation in Venezuela right now, not that many people can come. Its really sad.

Venezuelas economic meltdown, which has produced shortages of food and medicine, near hyperinflation, and a rise in crime, is now squeezing the countrys national sport.

Rising ticket prices, falling incomes and the fear of getting mugged while leaving ballparks after dark have reduced attendance by about half for the Lions and the other seven teams in the league. Due to government exchange controls, baseball clubs are struggling to secure the US dollars to import bats and gloves and sign overseas talent. The collapse of the bolvar, the national currency, means that many Venezuelan players earn the equivalent of just $300 a month.

The situation is so dire that league officials considered cancelling the 2017-18 season which runs from October to January. It was only saved after the state-run oil company stepped in with a $10m lifeline.

When we play and the games are broadcast on TV and radio that inspires kids to take up baseball. We create baseball fever. Thats the most important thing we do, said Juan Jos vila, the leagues president.

Fans watch a Caracas Lions game. Attendance has dropped by about half as a result of rising ticket prices and falling incomes. Photograph: Ariana Cubillos/AP

The government bailout has prompted criticism that president Nicols Maduros administration should direct such largesse to more pressing needs, like feeding the hungry. But vila and others argue that canceling the season would have thrown thousands of players, team officials, food vendors and stadium security guards out of work.

It would have made no sense, said Ignacio Serrano, a sports columnist for the Caracas newspaper El Nacional. Baseball is a business that produces a lot of jobs.

The sport was introduced here in the 1890s by Venezuelan students who picked up the game while attending US universities. Although Venezuela has never done much on the football pitch, the country is a baseball powerhouse. It has provided more foreign players to major league teams in the US than any other country except the Dominican Republic. They include Jos Altuve, the All-Star second baseman who led the Houston Astros to victory in this years World Series.

The sport even played a peripheral role in the countrys socialist revolution ushered in by the late Hugo Chvez. He claimed to have joined the Venezuelan army in order to escape poverty and pitch for the militarys baseball team. Chvez ended up leading a failed 1992 military coup and was elected president six years later.

In a 2009 television interview Chvez declared: I am still the young baseball player who wanted to play at Yankee Stadium.

Under Maduro, who became president when Chvez died of cancer in 2013, professional and amateur sports teams have found it hard secure food and equipment as well as airfares to get to games and overseas tournaments.

Young players in Caracas. The country has provided more foreign player to major league US teams than any except the Dominican Republic. Photograph: Robert Madden/National Geographic/Getty Images

They must also fend off criminals.

Last year, highway bandits stopped a bus carrying one of Venezuelas football clubs and made off with cash, laptops, uniforms, cleats and balls. That prompted the baseball league to seek government help and team buses are now flanked by police escorts.

Some sports officials have thrown in the towel. Nearly two dozen baseball academies that had been set up in Venezuela in the 1990s and 2000s by US major league teams to nurture talent have closed down. Due to the strife, the 2018 Caribbean Series, Latin Americas biggest baseball tournament, has been moved from Venezuela to Mexico.

As for the fans, many say that buying baseball tickets, which cost less than a dollar, takes a back seat to larger concerns like securing milk and antibiotics.

It doesnt help that the Lions home field, the creaking 65-year-old University Stadium near downtown Caracas, features broken toilets and often lacks running water. Last year a game was cancelled due to a blackout. The government is building a new ballpark in Caracas, called Hugo Chvez Stadium, but its unclear when it will be finished.

Venezuelas late president Hugo Chvez runs during a friendly game in Caracas. Photograph: Jorge Silva/Reuters

The stadium will be our gift to Venezuelan baseball, Maduro declared in a speech in March. Yet numerous league officials claim, under their breaths, that the only thing that will save the sport is better economic stewardship by Maduro or a new government.

For those who can afford it there is still much to love about Venezuelan baseball. The teams include a mix of up-and-coming Venezuelans, stars from around Latin America and despite the political tensions between Washington and Caracas numerous Americans.

I know the situation here is very difficult, said Mike Rojas, a Florida native who manages the Lions. But now that the season has started, it will give the fans some relief and help them forget about everything thats going on in the country.

That seemed to be the case at a recent game between the Lions and the Sharks of the Caribbean port city of La Guaira. Despite a three-hour rain delay, some 5,000 diehard fans refused to leave. Once play began they chanted, drank beer, hurled abuse at opposing players and banged on bongo drums until well after midnight when the Sharks finally won by a score of 6-2.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/nov/02/venezuela-baseball-dire-future-economic-crisis

Parliament to get vote on final Brexit deal

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Media captionDavis: Parliament will be given time to debate, scrutinise and vote on the final deal with the EU

Parliament is to be given a take-it-or leave-it vote on the final Brexit deal before the UK leaves the EU.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said the terms of the UK’s exit, such as money, citizen rights and any transition must become law via a new Act of Parliament.

Labour welcomed a “climbdown” but some MPs warned of a “sham” if ministers could not be asked to renegotiate.

Sources have told the BBC some Tory rebels were unimpressed, with one saying the promise was “meaningless”.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the announcement was significant because it represented a big concession to potential Tory rebels and Labour MPs at a highly important moment in the Brexit process.

It comes as MPs prepare to debate key Brexit legislation later this week with the government facing possible defeat on aspects of the EU Withdrawal Bill, which will convert EU law into UK law.

The UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019, irrespective of whether MPs back or reject the terms of the deal negotiated by Theresa May’s government.

But updating MPs on the sixth round of talks which concluded on Friday, Mr Davis told MPs they would still play a major role and “there cannot be any doubt that Parliament will be intimately involved at every stage”.

The government had previously agreed to give MPs and peers a vote on a Commons motion relating to the final Brexit deal – before it has been voted upon by the European Parliament.


Image copyright AFP

By Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political editor

A confident government wouldn’t have conceded like this the day before the Brexit debate was due to come back to the Commons in earnest.

This climbdown does not remotely mean that other grievances over the existing Brexit legislation will disappear.

It doesn’t mean that the next few weeks will suddenly become plain sailing. And if there isn’t a withdrawal deal with the rest of the EU, well, then there can’t be a bill that covers the withdrawal bill.

It’s only in the coming days that the government will know if they have done enough to get the existing plans through.

And the move also of course adds to a massive load of complicated Parliamentary business that has to be cleared before we actually leave.

Mr Davis said he still “intended and expected” this to happen but went further – agreeing to Labour and Tory MPs’ demands for any vote to take place on substantive primary legislation, which would allow MPs and peers to amend the bill before it became law.

The bill, he told MPs, would contain the contents of the withdrawal agreement that the UK hopes to seal in time ahead of its scheduled departure and all key aspects of it – such as the financial settlement between the two sides, the future status of UK and EU citizens and the terms of any implementation period.

“This means that Parliament will be given time to scrutinise, debate and vote on the final deal we strike with the EU,” he said, adding that it was not clear when such a bill would be published.

Labour’s Keir Starmer said it was a “significant climbdown from a weak government on the verge of defeat”.

“With less than 24 hours before they had to defend their flawed bill to Parliament, they have finally backed down,” the shadow Brexit secretary said.

“However, like everything with this government, the devil will be in the detail.”

Labour’s Chris Leslie said what “could have been a very welcome concession instead looks like a sham that pretends to respect the sovereignty of Parliament but falls well short of what is required”.

The Lib Dems reiterated their call for the final deal to be put to a referendum while several Tory MPs questioned what would happen if a deal was only agreed at the last minute before the 29 March deadline – a scenario Mr Davis has suggested was conceivable – and MPs could only vote after exit.

Dominic Grieve, the Conservative former Attorney General, said this would not be acceptable and if time ran out then negotiations with the EU should be extended “so all parties are able to deal with it”.

And Conservative MP Antoinette Sandbach pressed Mr Davis to reassure MPs how “if the bill intended to ensure a meaningful vote only comes forward after that date, the vote is in any sense meaningful”.

Mr Davis responded by saying MPs would have the opportunity to say “either you want the deal or you don’t want it” and if the UK and EU could not agree a deal, there would be no legislation.

But, in a meeting with the Conservative chief whip, a group of about a dozen Tory MPs expressed anger at the government’s plans, sources have told the BBC.

One of the MPs, Anna Soubry, said the idea of a Brexit Act of Parliament was “‘insulting… it sounds in theory very good but there’s no guarantee”.

She suggested that the promise was “meaningless” and that the government is in “grave difficulty” over passing its Brexit legislation in the coming months.

Related Topics

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41975277

9th Circuit green-lights some Trump administration travel ban restrictions

Washington (CNN)A federal appeals court handed the Trump administration a partial victory Monday, granting its emergency request to allow parts of its latest travel ban to go into effect while the appeal is pending.

The 9th Circuit panel is set to hear oral arguments on the case on December 6.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January banning foreign nationals from specific Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States, but the restrictions have been tied up in the legal system and have since been revised multiple times.
    In October, a federal judge in Hawaii blocked the third iteration of the travel ban one day before it was scheduled to take effect.
    At the time, Judge Derrick Watson said it “plainly discriminates based on nationality.”
    The ban targeted foreign nationals from eight countries — Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Somalia and Yemen — with varying levels of restrictions.
    The second version of the travel ban, issued in March, had barred residents of six Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/13/politics/9th-circuit-trump-administration-travel-ban/index.html

    The even uglier truth about ‘fake news’

    Anti-government activists clash with security forces during a protest against the elections for a Constituent Assembly proposed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
    Image: AFP/Getty Images

    Before the election, few Americans had heard of “fake news.” 

    Now, they’re all too aware: of the Russia-linked Facebook accounts that reached 126 million people, the deranged PizzaGate conspiracy, and the teens in Macedonia spreading lies to make an easy buck

    If you thought this was just an American problem, you’re wrong. In at least 17 other countries, fake news “played an important role” in recent elections, according to a new report from democracy watchdog Freedom House. 

    In a deeply divided Kenya, false reports labeled with CNN and BBC logos spread across Facebook and WhatsApp leading up to the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Nicolas Maduro’s power grab in Venezuela involved the government spreading false footage and lies about protesters on social media. And Facebook suspended 30,000 fake accounts only 10 days before the French presidential election.

    And that’s only the countries that were holding elections. Fake news was spread in 30 of the 65 countries examined in the report, which focused on the period between June 2016 and May 2017.

    “It’s a trend that we’ve seen growing around the world,” Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net report,said.“In most cases, it’s the government who’s behind it.”

    That’s true in countries ruled by autocratic regimes, such as China, Iran, and Myanmar. But it’s also a problem in democracies. 

    In the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte has encouraged roving death squads, a member of the country’s “keyboard army” can earn $10 a day praising the administration online, according to the report. And an estimated 75,000 “Peñabots” have swarmed opposition on Twitter to defend Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, often flooding hashtags with irrelevant information to drown out opposition. 

    Meddling? What meddling?

    Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

    Fake video clips and news stories alone are a problem — but paired with an army of bots and paid commenters to spread and endorse them, they become an extremely potent force for spreading government propaganda, Kelly said. 

    Precise ad targeting makes the problem worse. It ensures that those most vulnerable to nationalist and xenophobic content are able to see it.

    And while Google, Snopes, newspapers, and other online resources exist to help people in the U.S. debunk fake news, plenty of Americans still fall for it.

    Now imagine you didn’t know about those resources. Imagine your entire experience on the internet was a single social network, and nothing but that social network. 

    Back in 2015, when Facebook announced its goal to provide free internet to developing countries, the company got plenty of praise — and criticism from net neutrality advocates.

    Well, in the aftermath of Trump’s election, we should be worried about more than just net neutrality. Facebook’s slow, underwhelming response to fake news is even more troublesome considering it’s claimed to have brought “more than 25 million people online who otherwise would not be.”

    That’s a lot of people who depend on Facebook for information. 

    “Right now, for people who are first going online in the developing world, social media is the internet,” Kelly said. 

    “Right now, for people who are first going online in the developing world, social media is the internet”

    So if Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Russia’s VKontakte, and other social media platforms don’t try to stamp out fake news, there’s not much to stop bad actors from trying to sway elections in the developing world. 

    To make things worse, governments are using the threat of “fake news” (hello, Donald Trump) as an excuse to crack down on free speech. Ukraine was a victim of Russian dezinformatsiya, ordisinformation, long before it hit American shores. 

    Moscow wanted to sow division in the country after protesters spoke out against Ukraine’s pro-Putin leader. That escalated into bloodshed after Russia annexed Crimea and armed pro-Russian separatists. So it’s understandable Ukraine wanted to crack down on fake news, but its solution was to ban a number of social media sites and search engines entirely. 

    That explains why Ukraine — along with Egypt and Turkey — saw the biggest decline in internet freedom, according to the report. 

    It’s not an easy problem for governments to fix. Do nothing, and trolls could help rip your country apart. Do too much, and you could threaten the values of the liberal democracy you’re trying to protect. 

    To protect internet freedom and democracy, tech companies are going to have to step up in a big way. For starters, Kelly said, they could shut down bots and disclose who buys political ads, something Facebook has moved toward under increasing scrutiny. 

    Governments can help by educating citizens about how to spot fake news. School systems can look to Italy, which is teaching high school students how to do just that, for inspiration.

    If tech companies and governments can’t stop the spread of fake news, the results could be catastrophic. Just take a look at who’s in the White House. 

    Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/11/14/fake-news-freedom-house-report/

    Mrs Brown’s Boys stars ‘put 2m offshore’

    Three stars of hit BBC sitcom Mrs Brown’s Boys diverted more than £2m into an offshore tax-avoidance scheme, Paradise Papers documents show.

    Patrick Houlihan and Martin and Fiona Delany transferred their fees into companies in Mauritius and sent money back as loans.

    Similar tax avoidance schemes have been subject to investigation and challenges by HMRC in recent years.

    The actors have not responded to the BBC’s requests for comment.

    Houlihan told the Irish Times he had joined the scheme after receiving professional advice without fully understanding it.

    Roy Lyness, who put the stars in touch with the advisers behind the set-up, was the accountant behind the similar K2 tax avoidance scheme used by comedian Jimmy Carr.

    Paradise Papers – exposing the tax secrets of the ultra-rich

    Media playback is unsupported on your device

    Media captionRichard Bilton asks Mrs Brown’s Boys star Fiona Delany about the offshore scheme.

    The revelation in 2012 that Carr had used a Jersey-based tax shelter attracted criticism from then-Prime Minister David Cameron.

    It led to the comedian saying he had made “a terrible error of judgement”.

    The leaked documents held by offshore law firm Appleby show how the three Mrs Brown’s Boys stars put their fees from a production company owned by Brendan O’Carroll, the creator and star of the show and real-life father of Fiona Delany, in companies they controlled in Mauritius.

    Mr O’Carroll said neither he nor his companies have been involved in a tax avoidance scheme or structure and the actors’ wages were paid into a UK company bank account.

    Mr O’Carroll’s production company is registered at accountant Mr Lyness’s office in Oldbury in the West Midlands.

    Mr Lyness said he was “bound by client confidentiality as well as duties under the Data Protection Act not to divulge confidential information concerning my clients’ financial affairs”.

    Worldwide hit

    Mr O’Carroll plays Irish matriarch Agnes Brown in Mrs Brown’s Boys. Patrick Houlihan is one of the boys – Dermot. Fiona Delany stars as Mr Houlihan’s nurse wife Maria, and her real-life husband, Mr Delany, stars as Trevor Brown, the youngest son.

    Image caption The show’s creator, Brendan O’Carroll, stressed he had never been involved in a tax avoidance scheme or structure

    The sitcom started life as a radio show on RTE 2FM in the Irish Republic and became a worldwide hit after being turned into a TV series by the BBC and RTE in 2011. There is also a successful stage show which tours the world.

    A film, Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, came out in 2014, and the show’s Christmas specials are among the UK’s top-viewed festive programmes.

    Investment advisers

    The Paradise Papers documents suggest the actors’ fees from their work connected to Mrs Brown’s Boys was sent offshore to avoid income tax and national insurance.

    Source document

    Image caption The leaked documents show the trail of money being transferred to the actors via Mauritius

    They show:

    • Brendan O’Carroll’s production company pays a UK-based company for the actors’ work
    • the UK company transfers the money to a trust set up in Mauritius by Appleby
    • the actors were self-employed contractors for the trust, which took a 12.5% cut of their fees, before transferring the money into three companies in Mauritius
    • the actors each had effective control over the companies
    • they took on the role of investment advisers, “recommending” their earnings be sent back to their personal bank accounts in the form of loans
    • the loans had been structured to avoid triggering rules brought in by the UK government to prevent similar schemes from operating – with the money paid into the accounts through a third party.

    Documents for the 2014-15 financial year show Martin Delany’s offshore company received £448,095 and Fiona Delany’s received £448,168.

    No figures are available for Paddy Houlihan, as his company’s accounts for that period are not in the data.

    But a spreadsheet for the next financial year shows in December 2015 Mr Houlihan’s company had assets of £696,349, Fiona Delany’s £715,122, and Martin Delany’s £725,030.

    Accelerated payment notices

    In official guidance issued in 2016, HMRC said it would investigate and challenge such practices.

    “Scheme promoters will tell you that the payment is non-taxable because it’s a loan, and doesn’t count as income,” it said.

    “In reality, you don’t pay the loan back, so it’s no different to normal income and is taxable.

    “So if you’re using one of these schemes and being paid this way you’re highly likely to be avoiding tax.”

    Image caption Comedian Jimmy Carr’s use of a tax avoidance scheme came to light in 2012

    HMRC has the power to send people using these sorts of schemes “accelerated payment notices” – which require them to repay the tax immediately, while their case is investigated.

    Told of the type of scheme being used by the Mrs Brown’s Boys stars, MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: “If it’s not outside the actual rules it’s certainly… way outside the spirit of the rules.”

    She added: “A decade ago perhaps it wasn’t so much in the public domain, but now I don’t think anybody with any sense would be just taking the advice of a tax adviser without asking certain questions… That’s just common sense… these people ought to look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves whether it’s really fair what they’re doing.”

    In a statement on the Paradise Papers leak, Appleby said it was a law firm which “advises clients on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business. We operate in jurisdictions which are regulated to the highest international standards”.

    The papers are a huge batch of leaked documents mostly from offshore law firm Appleby, along with corporate registries in 19 tax jurisdictions, which reveal the financial dealings of politicians, celebrities, corporate giants and business leaders.

    The 13.4 million records were passed to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Panorama has led research for the BBC as part of a global investigation involving nearly 100 other media organisations, including the Guardian, in 67 countries. The BBC does not know the identity of the source.

    Paradise Papers: Full coverage; follow reaction on Twitter using #ParadisePapers; in the BBC News app, follow the tag “Paradise Papers”

    Watch Panorama on the BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only)

    Related Topics

    Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41886608

    Venezuela’s ex-chief prosecutor asks international court to try Maduro

    Luisa Ortega fled Venezuela after breaking with the president this year, and says her complaint was prompted by thousands of deaths ordered by the government

    Venezuelas sacked former chief prosecutor has asked the international criminal court to capture and try Nicols Maduro and other top officials for crimes against humanity over murders by police and military officers.

    Luisa Ortega, who broke with Maduro this year after working closely with the ruling Socialist party for a decade, was fired in August after she opposed Maduros plan to create an all-powerful legislature called the constituent assembly. She fled the country and has traveled the world denouncing alleged acts of corruption and violations of human rights.

    Ortega said her complaint, filed on Wednesday with the Hague-based tribunal, was prompted by some 8,290 deaths between 2015 and 2017 at the hands of officials who received instructions from the government.

    [They happened] under the orders of the executive branch, as part of a social cleansing plan carried out by the government, she told reporters in the Hague.

    The government did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

    The accusation refers to incidents of torture, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrest. Some of them took place during a crackdown on anti-government protests that rocked the country between April and July and left at least 125 people dead, some of them at the hands of military and police officers.

    The Maduro government accused Ortega of turning a blind eye to violence by opposition supporters, and has also leveled a number of corruption charges at her.

    Ortegas request also makes reference to killings that took place during police raids known as Operations to Free the People, which have been heavily criticized by human rights groups since they began in 2015.

    Nicols Maduro and his government must pay for this, she said.

    The complaint also accuses top officials such as the defense minister,, Vladimir Padrino and intelligence chief, Gustavo Gonzlez, of involvement in the alleged abuses.

    Ortegas critics say she was closely allied with Maduros efforts to crack down on dissent and, before her break with him, had helped jail opposition leaders on trumped-up charges.

    Maduros government insists it respects human rights and says opposition demonstrations were Washington-backed efforts to violently overthrow him.

    Venezuelas government and opposition agreed on Wednesday to a new round of foreign-mediated talks in the Dominican Republic on 1 December.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/16/venezuelas-ex-chief-prosecutor-asks-international-court-to-try-maduro

    Sacked Labour minister found dead

    An ex-Welsh Labour minister who faced a party investigation into allegations about his personal conduct has taken his own life, it is understood.

    Carl Sargeant, 49, lost his job as cabinet secretary for communities and children last Friday.

    He was suspended from Labour after the first minister learned of a number of alleged incidents involving women.

    A family statement said they were “devastated beyond words” at the loss of “the glue that bound us together”.

    Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the death was “deeply shocking news”.

    Mr Sargeant, who was married and had two children, was found dead at his home in Connah’s Quay, Flintshire, on Tuesday morning.

    He was sacked from his Welsh Government job after allegations about his behaviour were passed to First Minister Carwyn Jones’ office.

    Mr Jones had said on Monday he felt he had no choice but to refer the matter to the party. Mr Sargeant had vowed to clear his name.

    The Welsh Assembly’s business for Tuesday was cancelled as a mark of respect following his death, and meetings on Wednesday and Thursday will also not take place.

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    Media captionWelsh Assembly members pay tribute to Carl Sargeant

    In a statement Mr Sargeant’s family said: “Carl was a much loved husband, father and friend.

    “He wasn’t simply a part of our family. He was the glue that bound us together.

    “He was the most kind and caring husband, father, son and friend. We are devastated beyond words, and we know our grief will be shared by all those who knew and loved him.”

    Image caption Police were called to an address in Connah’s Quay on Tuesday

    Analysis by Vaughan Roderick, BBC Welsh affairs editor

    The Senedd, in the wake of the death of former Welsh Government minister Carl Sargeant, is a place in shock.

    I do not remember an atmosphere anything like this.

    There is, among some senior Labour figures, a growing sense of concern and anger at the process where the government or the Labour Party appear not to have exercised their duty of care over Mr Sargeant after he faced accusations about his behaviour.

    There are people who spoke to Mr Sargeant on Tuesday morning who were told that he still did not know what the allegations were.

    Carwyn Jones’s future could be on the line here. This is a trauma that could become a political crisis unless he comes up with the answers that Labour AMs in particular want to hear.

    More from Vaughan

    Paying tribute, the first minister said: “Carl was a friend as well as a colleague and I am shocked and deeply saddened by his death.

    “He made a big contribution to Welsh public life and fought tirelessly for those he represented both as a minister and as a local assembly member.”

    The prime minister’s spokesman said in relation to the “sad news” about the death of Carl Sargeant, that Theresa May’s “heart goes out to Carl Sargeant’s friends and family”.

    Mr Corbyn said the AM was “somebody who represented our party” and “worked hard to represent his communities”.

    The Labour leader said that all allegations must be examined and pursued but added: “There must also be great pastoral care and support given to everybody involved in these accusations, and also that we deal with them, all parties, as quickly as possible.”

    Speaking through tears, former local government minister Leighton Andrews told BBC Radio Wales: “Carl Sargeant was loved. He was loved across the political divide. He was loved by the people in his own community.

    “Carl was a unique politician. He arrived in the assembly from the factory floor. He grew up and still lived in the council estate that helped shape his roots in Connah’s Quay – he was still very much part of that community.

    “My understanding is that Carl was still not aware of the detail of the allegations against him even though, I’m told, this morning.”

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    Media captionEx-Plaid AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas: “Carl clearly felt he’d been found guilty”

    Former Plaid Cymru AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas said Mr Sargeant “clearly felt he had been found guilty before he had a chance to defend himself.

    “So I think we need to develop a system which is fair to everybody, which defends everybody, but doesn’t place people in a position where they feel they have no opportunity whatsoever to fight their cause.”

    Tributes were paid across the political divide on Tuesday.

    Conservative Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said he was “shocked and saddened” by the news, adding: “My heart goes out to his family, friends and colleagues.”

    Elin Jones, assembly presiding officer, said Mr Sargeant “served the people of Alyn and Deeside with pride and determination” and that he had made an “enormous contribution to the development of this democratic institution”.

    Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said: “Our Parliament has lost a stalwart and many of us have lost a friend.”

    Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said: “Carl Sargeant made a significant contribution to Welsh politics, both as an assembly member and a government minister.”

    UKIP Wales leader Neil Hamilton described him as a “gentle giant” who would be “missed across the party divide”.

    Liberal Democrat Kirsty Williams, who was a colleague of Mr Sargeant’s in the Welsh Government, said: “Not only was Carl a dedicated local AM, but he was an effective government minister who had a significant impact across political life at a national and community level.”

    FC Nomads, the Connah’s Quay football team that Mr Sargeant was president of, cancelled all games this weekend in a mark of respect.

    North Wales Police Supt Mark Pierce said police were called at about 11:30 GMT on Tuesday to a report that a man’s body had been found at an address in Connah’s Quay.

    “The man has been formally identified as local AM Carl Sargeant. His next of kin have been informed and police are supporting the family,” he said.

    “North Wales Police are not treating his death as suspicious and the matter has been referred to HM Coroner.”

    Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-41904161

    Thirty countries use ‘armies of opinion shapers’ to manipulate democracy report

    Governments in Venezuela, the Philippines, Turkey and elsewhere use social media to influence elections, drive agendas and counter critics, says report

    The governments of 30 countries around the globe are using armies of so called opinion shapers to meddle in elections, advance anti-democratic agendas and repress their citizens, a new report shows.

    Unlike widely reported Russian attempts to influence foreign elections, most of the offending countries use the internet to manipulate opinion domestically, says US NGO Freedom House.

    Manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 17 other countries over the past year, damaging citizens ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate, the US government-funded charity said. Although some governments sought to support their interests and expand their influence abroad, as with Russias disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe, in most cases they used these methods inside their own borders to maintain their hold on power.

    Even in those countries that didnt have elections in the last year, social media manipulation was still frequent. Of the 65 countries surveyed, 30, including Venezuela, the Philippines and Turkey, were found to be using armies of opinion shapers to spread government views, drive particular agendas, and counter government critics on social media, according to Freedom Houses new Freedom on the Net report. In each of the 30 countries it found strong indications that individuals are paid to distort the digital information landscape in the governments favour, without acknowledging sponsorship.

    That number has risen every year since the first report in 2009. In 2016, just 23 countries were found to be using the same sort of pro-government astroturfing (a fake grassroots movement). Recently the practice has become significantly more widespread and technically sophisticated, with bots, propaganda producers, and fake news outlets exploiting social media and search algorithms to ensure high visibility and seamless integration with trusted content, the report says.

    The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating By bolstering the false perception that most citizens stand with them, authorities are able to justify crackdowns on the political opposition and advance anti-democratic changes to laws and institutions without a proper debate.

    The report describes the varied forms this manipulation takes. In the Philippines, it is manifested as a keyboard army paid $10 a day to operate fake social media accounts, which supported Rodrigo Duterte in the run-up to his election last year, and backed his crackdown on the drug trade this year. Turkeys ruling party enlisted 6,000 people to manipulate discussions, drive agendas and counter opponents. The government of Sudans approach is more direct: a unit within the countrys intelligence service created fake accounts to fabricate support for government policies and denounce critical journalists.

    Governments are now using social media to suppress dissent and advance an anti-democratic agenda, said Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net project. Not only is this manipulation difficult to detect, it is more difficult to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking, because its dispersed and because of the sheer number of people and bots deployed to do it.

    The fabrication of grassroots support for government policies on social media creates a closed loop in which the regime essentially endorses itself, leaving independent groups and ordinary citizens on the outside, Kelly said.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/nov/14/social-media-influence-election-countries-armies-of-opinion-shapers-manipulate-democracy-fake-news